Monday, August 5, 2019

Was Severus Snape a Good Person?

Warning: Plot spoilers for the Harry Potter series. 

Rarely do we come across a more polarising character than this guy! He's a bone of contention in my family to the point that I predict heated words whenever I hear the name 'Snape'. My daughter had an intense argument with her brother and cousin way into the early hours of the morning about this very question. Is Severus Snape a good guy or not? She said, 'I can't stand Professor Snape, because he's so nasty and horrible.' The boys replied, 'That's insane. Don't you know everything he did was for Harry?' They kept shouting their separate points of view, nobody gained any ground, and they ended up going to bed with the matter unresolved. But after pondering the argument while planning this blog post, I had an idea where they all came unstuck. Maybe the word 'good' is too ambiguous at times, which definitely includes occasions when the subject is Snape. I think it is possible to come to some sort of agreement about him, but we've got to be sure we're using the word 'good' in the same way before we begin a discussion.

If we take it to mean, 'Is he brave, smart and moral?' then the answer is YES.

Harry owes Snape big time. There's so much evidence to support this. Snape secretly protected Harry on numerous occasions. To mention just a few, he prevented him from being killed by Quirrell during his very first Quidditch match, he shielded the Golden Trio from Remus Lupin in his werewolf form, he alerted the Order when he knew Harry and Co were off on a wild goose chase to the Ministry basement, he lied to Dolores Umbridge about his store of Veritaserum, and of course, his doe patronus led Harry directly to the Sword of Gryffindor. For someone who had to do his good deeds away from the scrutiny of the Dark side, he did a pretty thorough job. 

Dumbledore owes Snape big time. Who else would be smart enough to pull off the dangerous double-agent act he'd been playing for years? Severus was walking a very fine line which ended up being the death of him. He had to be a brilliant actor during those years. Imagine anybody else managing not to turn a hair when the doomed Muggle studies teacher pleaded with him for her life. Or anyone else managing to withstand all Voldemort's attempts to use Legilimency on him, to uncover his true motives. The old headmaster had complete faith in his potions master, which turned out to be well-founded. Snape was the only one who could end the suffering old man's life in the way he desired.

Remus Lupin owes Snape big time. This one was done under sufferance, I grant you that. But still, Remus' old school companion was the only one qualified to concoct the Wolfsbane potion, enabling him to control his werewolf manifestions for as long as he wanted to continue teaching at Hogwarts. There's a lot of irony there. Don't you love it when Snape asks, 'Are you out for a little stroll in the moonlight, Remus?'

The Malfoy family owes Snape big time. He wasn't kidding when he made the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa, promising to protect her son Draco to the extent of fulfilling Voldemort's horrendous mission in his place. That's exactly what he did. And he hid the fact from Voldemort that Draco caved in and failed to carry out the evil task to the letter, enabling the boy to stay alive. I guess he repaid Lucius for taking him under his wing when he was a little first year student, sorted into Slytherin House.

Nobody can deny Severus Snape was a brave and intelligent man who played his hand successfully until the very end, to the benefit of many others. So he was a great person, but was he a good person?

If we take it to mean, 'Is he nice or kind?' then the answer is NO. 

Sure, he claims to have done everything out of love for Lily Potter, but that was strictly on his own terms. He had an opportunity to prove his undying love every day in a way she would have appreciated, but refused to take it. Lily would have wanted him to be kind, or at least not spiteful, to the son she died for. Instead, Snape treated Harry appallingly. He made no attempt to hide his genuine dislike, because of Harry's resemblance to his father. Severus seemed to prove over and over, by lashing out, that his hatred of James was stronger than his love for Lily. (My boys argue, 'But that was all part of the act, to throw the dark side off his scent.' I think that's only true up to a point, since Snape took such obvious pleasure in his vindictive treatment of Harry.)

He was the teacher from hell, treating several students (mostly Harry's friends) horribly. He punishes Hermione and calls her an insufferable know-it-all for no other reason than being adept in his subject and knowing the correct answers. He terrifies Neville until he's a bundle of nerves and can't think straight in his class. In the movies, he smashes Harry's and Ron's heads together a countless number of times. If your definition of being a good person means that lovely thoughts shine forth for everyone to see, then no way is Severus your man! His mind was a resentful, gloomy, bitter, angry, spiteful cesspool more stinking than anything brewing in his cauldrons. 

My son said, 'Just because he had a dour, sarcastic personality, should we hold that against him?' Well, in some ways it's hard not to. Remember when Hermione was jinxed with a spell that made her teeth grow as long as a beaver's? Snape sneered, 'I can't tell the difference.' Who needs such a teacher in a school?

Sure, he was a hero and a legend, and I love every scene he's in, yet it's hard to bring myself to call him a good person. I know I surely differ from many fans here.

I'll always believe that his great love for Lily was a bit questionable all along, since he didn't care whether her husband and son rotted in hell. I wasn't impressed by the scene where he cradles her corpse to his chest and ignores the traumatised baby in the cot behind him, who has just lost his parents and been blasted by the Dark Lord.

I'll always believe being poor little Neville's boggart was nothing to be proud of!

And a person who invented a vicious spell like Septumsempra certainly wasn't driven by feelings of peace and goodwill toward the human race. 

I'll never stop thinking that Harry and Ginny were being overly generous for choosing Severus as their son's middle name.

And I still believe that my son and nephew, as much as they choose to defend him, would have dreaded Potions lessons just as much as anyone else had they been Hogwarts students in any house other than Slytherin.   

But if you still can't get enough of this guy, Severus Snape is on my list of 
Bad Boys with Depth.
He's also on my list of 
Worst Teachers Ever.


  1. This is a great post that is also thoughtful. I love the way that you dig into both sides of the issue. I would argue that Snape was not just sarcastic and mean but that he was abusive. As such he is akin to someone who fought and took risks against Nazis but who was a terrible person despite this. He was indeed complex.

    I agree about Ginny and Harry being too generous with the name.

    1. Hi Brian, so true, that's just the sort of person he was, and a perfect summary. At many other schools, he'd surely be a candidate for getting fired. And if I was a parent of a student at the receiving end of his abuse, I'd hope he would.

  2. I swear this question will divide the reading community from now until the end of time 😂

    I definitely fall into the "no" camp, even on questions of his morality and how much he apparently "helped" Harry. It always jarred me the way that Rowling worked in a "but he was secretly GOOD all along!" reveal, it seemed too neat, too mushy. His motives were all messed up from day one - in my view, he was entirely selfish, even when he was doing the "right" thing. It was either about winning Lily's love (to hell with what she actually wanted for herself), or some kind of ridiculous self-administered penance for not having won her love. I mean... ugh.

    BUT, of course, I wouldn't begrudge anyone else their own take on him. All sorts and all that 😉 I just know that *I* wouldn't be naming my kid after him, ha!

    1. Hi Sheree, Haha, I can sort of see where the YES side is coming from sometimes, but their absolute fervour and adoration of this teacher from hell does puzzle me :) Even in those days with Lily, he just wouldn't let go when she made it clear she wasn't interested in him that way. And that sort of attitude wins him so much love!

  3. Great arguments! I'm not a Snape fan, but I do respect him, especially as a double agent.

    1. Hi Iola, yeah, he's one of the best double agents from a story. Nobody could deny that :)